When to plant oakleaf hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea

  • By Pat Chadwick
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  • November 2016-Vol.2 No.11
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Just mention the word “hydrangea” and most people immediately think of the mophead and lacecap selections of Hydrangea macrophylla. These glorious shrubs are very popular and commonly found blooming in summer landscapes throughout the country. A less commonly known hydrangea is the oakleaf species (H. quercifolia), which has a different look and feel to it. Like the mopheads and lacecaps, oakleaf hydrangeas also produce large, clusters of very showy flowers. But the similarities between the oakleaf hydrangea and its cousins basically end there.

Oakleaf Hydrangea in Summer Bloom

A number of significant characteristics set the oakleaf hydrangea apart from the other members of the genus.

  • Flowering habit – Oakleaf hydrangea flowers appear in elongated, cone-shaped clusters, known as inflorescences (flower heads consisting of a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem). The inflorescences consist of a combination of showy sterile and inconspicuous fertile flowers. In contrast, the mophead hydrangeas have globe-shaped clusters of large florets. Lacecap hydrangeas have flattened bloom heads of small female flowers surrounded by larger male flowers.
  • Foliage –

    Large foliage on Oakleaf Hydrangea

    Whereas the foliage on H. macrophylla species tends to be moderate sized, ovate or heart shaped, and smooth textured, oakleaf hydrangea foliage is large (4 to 12” long and wide, depending on the selection), lobed, and coarsely textured. Similar in shape to the leaf of an oak tree, the foliage is the inspiration for this shrub’s botanical name, which is derived from the Latin words quercus (oak) and folium (leaf).

  • Origin – Most of the 23 recognized hydrangea species belonging to the genus are Asian in origin. Two exceptions, oakleaf hydrangea and smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens), are native to this country. Oakleaf hydrangea is native to all the states in the southeastern quadrant of the United States, from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Louisiana.
  • Fall color –

    Burgundy and Purple Autumn Foliage of Oakleaf Hydrangea

    Oakleaf hydrangea is the only member of the genus that provides any significant fall foliage coloration. In November and December, when most other deciduous plants have shed their leaves, the oakleaf hydrangea remains fully clothed in stunning deep red to purple leaves that linger well into winter.

  • Cultural requirements – All hydrangeas generally prefer moist, well-drained soil. However, once established, the oakleaf species is able to tolerate drier soil and more sun than other members of the genus.

Oakleaf hydrangea is a deciduous, rounded shrub with a mounding form from the ground up. Strong, sturdy stems hold large clusters of flowers above foliage that is generally dark green on top and whitish green beneath. The stems are an attractive cinnamon or tan color with bark that peels in thin flakes. In the wild, this understory shrub is often found growing in the shade of mixed hardwood trees, along streams, and on forested hillsides. In the cultivated landscape, it is an ornamental plant that grows best in a partially shaded natural or landscaped woodland setting, preferably with morning sun and afternoon shade. It is hardy to zones 6 through 9 with some cultivars hardy to zone 5.

Depending on the cultivar, showy clusters of creamy white or pink flowers bloom on the previous year’s wood. Most cultivars produce single blossoms, but a few produce double blossoms. The blossoms last 4 to 6 weeks or more before aging to either tan or deep pink and are borne in inflorescences measuring 6 to 12 inches long and 3 to 5 inches wide. The flowers dry in place, adding interest to the plant through autumn.


The following list, which is by no means complete, describes a number of oakleaf hydrangea selections and their general sizes and floral displays. While a few cultivars can grow 12 feet or more tall, most cultivars are medium sized, ranging from 5 to 8 feet tall on average. For the gardener with a small garden, many compact selections are available that grow 4 feet tall or less and have proportionately smaller foliage and flower clusters.


  • ‘Alice’ – 12’ tall by 12’ wide. This is a good selection for larger gardens that can handle a shrub this size. The large white flowers age to rosy pink before finally turning tan in late summer. ‘Alice’ was the winner of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia gold medal award in the year 2000.
  • ‘Alison’ – 8’ to 10’ tall. While similar to ‘Alice’, this cultivar is a little broader and the inflorescences are held more upright than those of ‘Alice’. The large white flower clusters age to pink before turning tan by summer’s end.
  • ‘Harmony’ – 10’ tall and wide. This selection exhibits clusters of very large, dense, sterile, double flowers. Their weight can bend down branches. Not often found in nurseries, this selection is uncommonly beautiful, but the weight of the flowers may be a problem.


  • ‘Amethyst’ – 6’ tall by 6’ wide. A compact cultivar developed by Dr. Dirr, the flowers turn from white to rose. Both ‘Alice’ and ‘Amethyst’ have very deep pink inflorescences as they age.
  • ‘Gatsby Gal’ – 5’ to 6’ tall by 5’ to 6’ wide. This and the following two selections are members of the Gatsby series developed by Proven Winners and introduced in 2016. ‘Gatsby Gal’ has flowers that are upright, making them seem large compared to the compact size of the shrub.
  • ‘Gatsby Moon’ – 6’ to 8’ tall by 6’ to 8’ wide. The inflorescences consist of tightly packed, very full double flowers that are reminiscent of those on ‘Harmony’, described above. The flowers age from white to green rather than pink.
  • ‘Gatsby Pink’ – 6’ to 8’ tall by 6’ to 8’ wide. The massive, long lasting flower heads rapidly change from white to a rich shade of medium pink.
  • ‘Queen of Hearts’ – 6.5’ tall by 9’ wide. The U.S. National Arboretum’s shrub breeding program developed this cultivar from a hybridization of cultivars ‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Pee Wee’, the same cross that also produced ‘Ruby Slippers’ described below. The flowers open white and slowly age to a deep pink color.
  • ‘Snow Queen’ – 6’ tall by 6’ wide. ‘Snow Queen’ holds its single-flowered inflorescences more upright than other cultivars and can also handle sunnier sites. It was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 2012.
  • ‘Snowflake’ – 7’ tall by 7’ wide. Another recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 2012, this cultivar has a longer bloom season than most other cultivars. It sports very long (15 inch) spikes of double hose-in-hose flowers that persist for a long time on the plant. The flowers gradually age to pink and then to light tan.


  • ‘Little Honey’ – 4’ tall by 5’ wide. A sport of ‘Pee Wee’, the golden yellow spring foliage gradually darkens to chartreuse green in summer and then turns red in fall. Give it morning sun and afternoon shade for best results. The 5 to 6-inch long, cone-shaped inflorescences of white blooms are small, compared to those of other oakleaf hydrangea species.
  • ‘Munchkin’ –

    Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Munchkin’

    3’ tall by 4.5’ wide. ‘Munchkin was developed by the U.S. National Arboretum’s shrub breeding program in McMinnville, Tennessee. The compact form and dense plant habit make it an ideal choice for small residential landscapes. The flowers open white and gradually turn medium pink.

  • ‘Pee Wee’ — 5’ tall by 4’ wide typically but may grow larger. This upright, compact selection holds its rich burgundy and purple leaves very late in the season before dropping them. The leaves average 5” in length and generally have 3 to 7 lobes each. The blossoms age to a tan color in late summer.
  • ‘Ruby Slippers’ – 3.5’ tall by 5’ wide. The U.S. National Arboretum’s shrub breeding program developed this mounding, semi-dwarf cultivar from a hybridization of cultivars ‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Pee Wee’. The flowers open white but quickly turn a pale pink shade, which deepens to rosy red later in the summer.
  • ‘Sikes Dwarf’ – 2’ to 4’ tall by 3’ to 4’ wide. This compact selection is perfect for smaller gardens and can also be used in a container garden. The flower clusters, which turn light pink as they age, are composed of sterile florets that hide the fertile flowers. ‘Sikes Dwarf’ has an open plant habit and an irregular rounded shape.


Soil – Oakleaf hydrangea prefers moist, organic, fertile, well-drained, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.0 – 6.5. Drought tolerant once established, it does appreciate water during very dry conditions. Good drainage is important. Although the plant likes moist soil, it cannot tolerate wet feet.

Sunlight – This shrub can thrive in full to partial shade. However, it performs better with at least a half day or more of sun, which produces a better floral display, stronger stems, and more colorful autumn foliage. Some cultivars can take a sunnier site. Heavy shade, on the other hand, will result in fewer blooms but larger leaves.

Pruning – Oakleaf hydrangea generally requires little if any pruning. Should it become necessary to shape the plant or reduce its size, prune shortly after the shrub flowers. This shrub sets flower buds in late summer for next year. In other words, it blooms on old wood. Pruning at any other time of year will result in the loss of next year’s blossoms.

Pests – Other than occasional damage from spider mites and aphids, insects don’t normally bother this plant. However, deer will nibble on this plant, especially the tender, young spring foliage, so protect the plant with either deer repellent or a physical barrier.

Diseases – Other than leaf spot, this plant is seldom bothered by disease.

Propagation – The shrub may be propagated from stem cuttings. Because the branches are low to the ground, the plant may also be propagated by layering.


Oakleaf hydrangea is a versatile shrub that is bold yet elegant when used as a single specimen; a backdrop to smaller shrubs, bulbs, or perennials; a component of a mixed border; a deciduous hedge; or as a mass planting.

If there’s a downside to oakleaf hydrangeas, it’s that their large, coarsely textured foliage may be off-putting to a timid gardener. Rest assured, the foliage blends very well with daintier-leaved plants. For example, evergreens with their finer needles or scaly branches make a pleasing contrast. The more formal round shape and small, dense leaves of boxwoods contrast well with oakleaf hydrangea’s looser form. Taller ferns, such as ostrich or cinnamon ferns, and shorter grass-like plants, such as liriope, also harmonize well with oakleaf hydrangeas.


Easy-care oakleaf hydrangea offers year-round interest, which makes it especially valuable in the landscape. In the spring, it makes an immediate impact as its bold, handsome foliage emerges. In summer, the large, long-lasting clusters of creamy white or pink flowers contrast with the dark green foliage. Many cultivars gradually mature to medium pink or deep rose. Fall is when the oakleaf hydrangea really makes an impact with its rich, deep burgundy/purple foliage that persists into winter. The dried tan or light brown flower heads add additional interest. In winter, the exfoliating tan bark provides an additional textural element to the snowy landscape.


Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Dirr, Michael A., 1997)

“Hydrangea Selection, Pruning and Care,” Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication (ext.vt.edu/chesapeake/programs/anr/Pruning )

”Hydrangeas: Breeding, Selection and Marketing,” Michael Dirr’s Plants Website (dirrplants.com/-hydrangeas)

“Selecting Plants for Virginia Landscapes: Showy Flowering Shrubs,” Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication HORT-84P (ext.vt.edu/HORT/HORT-84/)

University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources Plant Database, Hydrangea quercifolia, (hort.uconn.edu)

North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension (plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/hydrangea-spp)

United States National Arboretum, (usna.usda.gov/Gardens/faqs)

University of Tennessee Hydrangea Production (tnstate.edu/faculty/ablalock/documents/Hydrangea)

Welcome To The Blog That Gives You The Plant Grower’s Perspective!

When talking about choices in hydrangeas it can quickly become an overwhelming topic. Macrophylla, arborescens, quercifolia, paniculata, mopheads, lacecaps, climbers, blue flowers, pink flowers… Good golly molly the choices are endless! The exciting thing though is that there are so many choices and there’s a fantastic hydrangea for every garden. Basically, there are four species of hydrangeas, macrophylla, quercifolia, arborescens and paniculata. Within those species are hundreds of varieties of hydrangeas which would take a lifetime to review and discuss. To narrow the scope let’s take a closer look and review a few of the oakleaf hydrangeas (quercifolia) which are a very popular type of hydrangea.

Hydrangea Pee Wee (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’)

When it comes to hydrangeas bigger isn’t always better. ‘Pee Wee’ is noted for its compact size in relation to most other quercifolia hydrangeas growing 3-4’ tall and 3-4’ wide. It’s smaller stature makes it a good choice for a foundation planting or in an area where space is a consideration. Its name (hydrangea oakleaf) comes from the leaves being shaped like oak leaves which gives this plant some very nice character.

Characteristics of Hydrangea ‘Pee Wee’

Hydrangea ‘Pee Wee’ has a beautiful, conical shaped white flower that comes into bloom during June and July and fades to a pink later in the season. The blooms make excellent cut flowers for display in the home and also provide a nice fragrance. Oak leaf hydrangeas are known for their multi-season interest and ‘Pee Wee’ is no exception. Fall foliage color has red, burgundy and purple shades and the faded flowers dry and hold on the plant during the winter months. The bark of the plant peels and exudes a dark brown color. Plant in full sun to part shade and make sure there is good drainage as this hydrangea does not like its “feet wet”. Its hardiness range is from zones 5 to 9 and is overall a low maintenance plant.

Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’ (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Sikes Dwarf’)

‘Sikes Dwarf’ is another smaller version of the oak-leaved hydrangea that has a compact form and a rounded shape. This variety of oak leaf grows 2-4’ tall and 2-4’ wide having has smaller leaves and smaller flower panicles than the species. Its foliage and blooms extend all the way to the ground and it tends to sucker less frequently from the roots compared to some of the oakleaf hydrangeas. This hydrangea is an excellent plant choice for a smaller garden space in a foundation or patio planting and also makes a nice, small hedge.

Characteristics of Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’

This hydrangea boasts its multi-season characteristics from flowers to foliage to bark. From May until July the flowers emerge as pale greenish-white turning to white then finally a reddish-pink as the flowers mature. Fall foliage coloring is a welcome sight to see as its oak shaped leaves turn many shades of red. During the winter months it can be appreciated for its “paper-like” bark. It makes a great plant for container gardening bringing great texture and color to the patio or porch and as a cut flower fills the home with fabulous summer color. Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’ is best suited in a well-drained, moist and slightly acidic soil and is considered to be a low maintenance shrub. It’s hardiness range is from zones 5-9.

Hydrangea ‘Alice’ (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’)

Hydrangea ‘Alice’ is one of the few hydrangeas that is native to the United States (H. arborescens being the other one) and is noted for its large, arching flowers that can grow up to 14” long. It is a larger oak leaf hydrangea growing 5-8’ tall and 5-8’ wide. ‘Alice’ is a good plant choice as a large specimen or accent plant in a foundation planting or near patios. It is also a good choice for a shrub border.

Characteristics of Hydrangea ‘Alice’

Alice is a beautiful hydrangea most noted for its large, arching white panicles the bloom from June all the way through July. It has beautiful fall color with the panicles fading out from white to pink in late summer and the foliage turning to a deep red and bronze color through the fall. This hydrangea likes a soil that has medium moisture with good drainage and rich organic media. Light requirements for this plant are full sun to part shade. Hardy in zones 5-9 and should be winter protected in zone 5.

Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’)

A newcomer to the market in 2010 is Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’. It was developed in 1998 as a hybrid from hydrangea ‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Pee Wee’ and one of the first hydrangeas to be introduced from the United States. Noted for being a small oakleaf, ‘Ruby Slippers’ is a compact plant with an upright shape making it a good choice in a small landscape. It grows 3.5’ tall and 5’ wide. Uses in the landscape include a mass hedge, shrub border, or specimen plant.

Characteristics of Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’

This dwarf hydrangea is a showstopper in the oakleaf family. Its 9” long flowers bloom for 4-8 weeks from early to mid-summer starting out with a white panicle, turning to pink and then the beautiful red color. The stems are very strong and hold the flowers upright creating a beautiful and sturdy plant. The leaves are sturdy as well and able to withstand strong winds and sun and the fabulous fall color of scarlet-burgandy is a must see! It grows best in a well-drained, enriched soil with good moisture, but will also tolerate dry soils once established. It will tolerate full sun to partial shade and is hardy in zones 5-8.

Pruning Hydrangeas

Most hydrangeas really don’t need pruning so it’s best to just let them do their thing. If there are weak or winter-damaged branches it is ok to prune those areas. Sometimes pruning will encourage more flowers on older plants or if the hydrangea was planted in the incorrect area reducing its size might be necessary. If any pruning is to be done the timing is important. Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood (meaning last year’s branches) and set their flower buds in late summer or early fall. Pruning too late in the season can eliminate flowers for the following year. Make sure any pruning is done right after flowering is finished.

Planting and Care of Hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangeas will grow in full sun to part shade and might benefit from some afternoon shade in hot climates. Make sure to consider the appropriate location based on soil type and mature size of plant when choosing a planting area. Oakleaf hydrangeas tend to like a well-drained soil that is organically enriched. Oakleaf hydrangeas are very particular about soil moisture and don’t like to have “wet feet”. Too much moisture will cause root rot. Make sure the hydrangea is planted the same level as it was in the pot. Planting time is not too particular, but may be best to wait until the chance of frost is gone. If planting in the summer ensure that appropriate watering is followed. Make sure to follow a regular watering pattern until the plant is fully established. Supplemental watering may be needed during dry/drought conditions.

Changing the Color of Hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangeas are not one of the types of hydrangeas that can be changed from blue to pink or pink to blue. They could actually be considered “self-changers” as they naturally change their colors during blooming time which is really fun to watch.

(Hydrangea ‘Pee Wee’, ‘Sikes Dwarf’ and ‘Alice’ photos from Missouri Botanical Garden. Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ photo from American Nurseryman.)

This is the Best Hydrangea Variety for the South

Hydrangeas are one of our favorite Southern plants. Colorful, long blooming, easy to prune, and suitable to root in a wide range of plant zones, hydrangeas are ideal to use throughout your garden in beds, privacy hedges, and even in large containers on your porch. One of our favorite aspects of the hydrangea is that home gardeners have the ability to adjust the vibrant color of their plants by simply adjusting the acidity of the soil. They’re also suitable for trimming and drying, as well. The Grumpy Gardener loves planting hydrangeas, but he doesn’t like having to buy new plants to populate his garden. Here, Grumpy Gardener Steve Bender shows us that hydrangeas are surprisingly easy to divide and enjoy throughout your garden. Learn how to multiply your beautiful, Southern hydrangeas with this simple rooting technique from the Grumpy Gardener.

In this easy gardening tutorial, Grumpy Gardener shows you how to turn one hydrangea into five separate plants. First, he suggests choosing a low, bendable branch and placing it above a full pot of planting soil; make sure that you position your pot of soil underneath a node (the point at which the leaves attach to the stem), remove the leaves at this node, and plant the node firmly in the soil below. He also suggests placing a rock on top of the node in this spot in order to keep the node in place. Leave it there for about two months, keeping it watered regularly. Check on it, and if you have roots, you have yourself a new plant! Carefully separate it from the original plant with pruning sheers. Learn how to multiply your hydrangeas with this simple rooting technique—without spending a lot of money during the process.

For more information on this southern favorite, check out our SL Hydrangea Guide.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Info: How To Care For An Oakleaf Hydrangea

You’ll recognize oakleaf hydrangea by its foliage. The leaves are lobed and resemble those of oak trees. Oakleafs are native to the United States, unlike their famous cousins with pink and blue “mophead” flowers, and are tough, cold hardy and drought resistant. Read on for more oakleaf hydrangea information and tips on how to care for an oakleaf hydrangea.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Information

Native to the southeastern part of the country, oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are attractive all year long. These hydrangea shrubs bloom in spring and early summer. The panicle flowers are greenish-white when they are young, picking up subtle shades of pink and brown as they age. After new flowers stop coming, the blooms stay on the plant and look lovely as they mature.

The lobed leaves can grow large, up to 12 inches long. Bright green in spring and fall, they turn brilliant shades of red and orange as autumn turns into winter. They

are also lovely and interesting shrubs in winter since the bark peels back, revealing the dark layer beneath.

These features make it a pleasure to start growing oakleaf hydrangeas in your garden. You will find that oakleaf hydrangea care is quite easy.

Growing Oakleaf Hydrangeas

When you start growing oakleaf hydrangeas, you need to learn more about oakleaf hydrangea care. Like most hydrangeas, oakleaf requires a location with some sun and well-draining soil to thrive.

Oakleaf hydrangea information tells you that these shrubs can grow in shady areas, making them more versatile garden plants. You’ll get better fall flowers, however, with a little more sun. Ideally, plant them where they get direct sunlight in the morning and more shade in the afternoon.

These shrubs can grow in cooler regions, down to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 5. But you’ll find that growing oakleaf hydrangeas is easier in regions that get some heat in summer.

How to Care for an Oakleaf Hydrangea

If you planted your hydrangea correctly, you should find that growing oakleaf hydrangeas is not difficult. These native shrubs are virtually disease and pest free and, once established, are drought tolerant.

Oakleaf hydrangea information tells you that the plants can grow 10 feet tall with an 8 foot spread. If you haven’t allowed sufficient room for their mature size, you may have to start pruning the hydrangeas to keep them small enough for the space.

Pruning oakleaf hydrangeas can also help establish a full shrub. Pinch back new growth or else trim older growth if this is your intent. Since these shrubs bloom on the prior year’s growth, don’t prune them until they bloom. This gives them time to grow new buds that will bloom again the following summer.

Planting and Transplanting Hydrangeas

Planting hydrangeas in the right location is extremely important. Location can make the difference between growing a lush, lavishly blooming shrub and one that struggles and produces scrawny blooms.

For information on choosing the right hydrangea for your climate (planting zone), see Choosing the Right Hydrangea.

Where To Plant Hydrangeas

All hydrangeas will bloom and grow well in morning sun and afternoon shade. This is especially true of the commonly grown Hydrangea macrophylla. Macrophylla hydrangeas are the blue and pink mopheads and lacecaps.

The further north one lives the more sun hydrangeas need and can withstand. While mophead hydrangeas can grow well in all-day sun in Chicago, they would struggle to survive in afternoon sun in Atlanta. Some visitors to this site who live in cooler climates such as the northeast or northwest report that their hydrangeas do beautifully in full sun all day.

No hydrangea will do well in HEAVY shade, such as under a shade tree. The blooms will be sparse and will not develop fully.

If your landscape is mostly sunny (and hot), you may wish to grow the PeeGee (paniculata) hydrangea, which thrives in all day sun as long as it receives adequate moisture. PeeGee hydrangeas actually need at least 5 hours of sun per day to bloom well.

The Oakleaf hydrangeas will also grow in sun or shade, but the blooms last longer if they get a little afternoon shade in hot climates. The leaves on the Oakleaf hydrangeas will “color up” best in the fall if they receive some sun.

How To Plant Hydrangeas

VERY IMPORTANT: Choose a location where your hydrangea can reach its full size without pruning. For normal sized hydrangeas, expect the plant to reach at least 4 ft. X 4 ft. Hydrangeas are almost impossible to keep pruned to a smaller size than they ultimately wish to grow.

Plant in well-drained soil! If soil is heavy, add roughage such as pine bark mulch (Make sure it’s ground BARK not ground WOOD).

Do not over water, esp. in clay soil. This can lead to root rot.

Do not plant too deeply. Plant at the same depth the hydrangea was planted in the pot.

Plant in early summer or fall.

Transplant a hydrangea when it has become dormant and has lost all of its leaves (late fall or winter).

More Tips For Planting Hydrangeas

Place the hydrangea in an area where it can get plenty of moisture. Supplemental moisture is especially important the first year or two and during droughts.

Hydrangeas planted under a tree often fail to thrive. This is because trees roots are very aggressive and are drawn to the rich, moist soil usually provided for hydrangeas.

No matter how many of the tree roots you remove to make room for the hydrangeas (and be careful not to remove too many), the roots will all be back within a year (unless you remove too many and kill the tree!).

Also, as mentioned above, under large hardwood trees the light is often insufficient for growing hydrangeas. If grass won’t grow in the area, hydrangeas probably won’t either.

The Oakleaf hydrangea is more temperamental about “wet feet” than the other types. Make sure that the Oakleaf will get perfect drainage in the area in which it is planted or the roots may rot. This is especially true when it is first planted. After the Oakleaf becomes established, it is very easy to grow.

Best Time To Plant Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas purchased from a garden center have been growing outdoors in a pot. They can be planted at any time of the year. However, to get good results, keep these considerations in mind:

Whenever possible, plant in early summer or fall. Don’t plant in early spring when frosts are still possible. I’ve lost two leafed-out plants that were killed when a late frost hit them.

Don’t plant a hydrangea during the hottest part of the summer unless it can’t be helped.

After planting a hydrangea, DO NOT LEAVE IT ALONE. Too often we rush to get our shrubs planted before we leave on vacation. Be on hand to give it some TLC and to keep it well watered.

Transplanting Hydrangeas

Most people know that “transplanting” means digging a plant up from one location and planting it in another.

Authorities agree that the BEST TIME to transplant hydrangeas is when they are dormant, i.e. after most of the leaves have fallen off the hydrangeas. When I lived in SC we transplanted hydrangeas in late November to late December, but if your ground isn’t frozen, January and February are fine, too.

Transplanting Hydrangea Tips

When digging a hydrangea to transplant, dig up as much of the rootball as possible. Since the roots are fibrous and form a ball filled with soil, the plant may be VERY heavy, so you might want to get some help with this.

Replant the hydrangea in an area that is shaded during the afternoon. This will not only help the plant to survive, but it is the preferred location for hydrangeas, especially in the South.

If you transplant while your hydrangeas are dormant (the best time), water them deeply one time. They may need no more water until spring when warmer weather arrives.

Hydrangeas must be kept watered very well the first and second summer after they are transplanted.

The best way to water is deeply. Use a hose to water rather than a sprinkler system. However do not over-water. Watering every day can be just as destructive as allowing the plants to dry out.

If the leaves wilt and the soil is moist enough, mist the leaves each day until they recover.

If your soil does not drain well, do not allow it to remain soggy around the hydrangeas. This is especially true for oakleaf hydrangeas which will rot in a heart-beat if they stand in soil that is wet when first planted.

Hydrangeas For Sun & Shaded Areas:

Full Sun Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas For Shade

Oakleaf Hydrangeas

The Oakleaf hydrangea is one of the few hydrangeas native to the United States (H. arborescens being the only other native we are aware of).

The Oakleaf hydrangea is a dramatic, white-blooming shrub with four seasons of interest. It blooms best in areas where summers are somewhat hot, but it is winter hardy farther north than the macrophylla (mophead). A tremendous advantage of the Oakleaf is that it can thrive in much dryer locations than its cousins. Mopheads struggle in my sandy soil, but the Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive with very little attention.

At this time the Oakleaf can be purchased in two forms: the single blossom types and the, so called, double-blossom type. ‘Snowflake’ & ‘Harmony’ are two most common varieties with double blooms.

The Oakleaf gets its name from the shape of its beautiful large leaves. These leaves often turn colors of brilliant red, orange, yellow and burgundy in the fall if planted in a sunny location with a little afternoon shade. The Oakleaf hydrangea can tolerate and even thrive in much sunnier areas than the mophead and lacecaps (macrophyllas).

NOTE: Unlike the mophead, the Oakleaf can grow very well in drier soil, but it cannot tolerate “wet feet.” It is important to provide excellent drainage when planting this hydrangeas. It can get root rot in a heart-beat if it stands in soggy soil even for short periods.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Varieties

  • Growing Zones: 5-9

    Gatsby Gal® Hydrangea

  • Growing Zones: 5-9

    Gatsby Moon® Hydrangea

  • Growing Zones: 5-9

    Gatsby Pink® Hydrangea

  • Growing Zones: 5-9

    Gatsby Star® Hydrangea

Other Oakleaf Hydrangea Varieties


This is a very special Oakleaf hydrangea because the blooms appear to be double (technically they are referred to as “multiple florets”, but I’m going to call them “double.”). Since the florets continue to open on each flower panicle throughout the summer, the bloom season is MUCH longer than that of the single varieties.

When shopping for ‘Snowflake,’ do not confuse it with ‘Snow Queen,’ which is a beautiful single, but is NOT ‘Snowflake.’


‘Harmony’ is relatively new to me although I think it’s been around for years. It is still a little difficult to find for purchase. But it will probably not be long before it is more readily available.


‘Snow Queen,’ and ‘Alice,’ Oakleaf hydrangeas are similar. They are close to the native Oakleaf in that they have single blooms. However, each has been bred to exhibit certain qualities considered superior to most native oakleafs. ‘Sikes Dwarf’ is more compact than the others and may be best for smaller gardens.


Both ‘Sikes Dwarf’ and ‘Pee Wee’ work well in smaller gardens.

UPDATE: Dottie from Arlington, Virginia, sent me these photos of her beautiful ‘SIKES DWARF’, growing in her garden.’ This is a pretty amazing little hydrangea. Dottie says that it has NO direct sun. The plant is staying compact, even hugging the ground, despite this. (Many shrubs will get leggy if they are grown in no sun, even if they are shade lovers). This looks like an ideal hydrangea to plant in the front of a shady border. (Doesn’t it look healthy?) Click for larger views.

Another visitor to this site, Chris, from Long Island, NY, says that she was looking for a shrub that would do well in a small space, only 4 X 6 feet. She found that the oakleaf hydrangea ‘Pee Wee’ works beautifully in this small area. Chris says “This is the first year I’ve had it in my yard, and it was very happy. It bloomed most of the summer, and it has rewarded me with deep burgundy colored leaves this fall/winter. I strongly recommend it for those who have a smaller space to work with and desire an oakleaf hydrangea. It will get to be about 4 feet high and as wide.”


‘Jet Stream’

Oakleaf Hydrangea

If you need a shrub that can shine in the shade, oakleaf hydrangea could be just what you’re looking for.


Oakleaf hydrangea is a coarse-textured native shrub that works well as an understory planting under larger trees like live oaks.

Each summer, oakleaf hydrangea puts up huge cone-shaped clusters of white flowers that will stay on the plant for months, eventually changing to a light pink or purple. Several cultivars are available that offer superior flowers.

The broad, dark green leaves are oak-shaped, giving the plant its name. They make an attractive backdrop for other plants. The leaves are largest on plants grown in the shade, reaching up to 8 to 12 inches long and almost as wide. They turn red, bronze or purple in the fall and may stay on the plant well into winter, though ultimately the plant is deciduous.

Even when its stems are bare, oakleaf hydrangea still adds interest to the landscape thanks to the interesting bark that peels back along its stems.

These large shrubs can reach 6 to 10 feet tall and have an even wider spread. Dwarf forms are also available.

Known scientifically as Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea is suited to USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9a.

Planting and Care

Oakleaf hydrangea will perform best if planted in a fertile, well-drained soil, but it will also tolerate other conditions. Pick a spot that has partial to almost full shade. In some climates oakleaf hydrangea can be grown in full sun, but in Florida it needs at least some shade.

The plant can be somewhat sprawling and is known to send up new shoots, so be sure to leave it plenty of room to grow. If you have limited space, try one of the more compact cultivars like ‘Pee Wee’.

Follow UF/IFAS guidelines for planting shrubs, and provide water until the plant is established. After that it should require little irrigation or other maintenance, aside from watering during extended dry periods or pruning occasionally to maintain form.

For more information on oakleaf hydrangea, contact your county Extension office.

UF/IFAS Publications

  • Hydrangea quercifolia Oakleaf Hydrangea

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Hydrangeas
  • Native Plants
  • Landscaping in the Shade
  • Shrubs

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